Stack Cups with Jaws of Life

By Blaize Levitan, Connecticut

Using cutters to stack cups in a pyramid.

Using cutters to stack cups in a pyramid.

With how often we need to train, it is important we start thinking out of the box. The “jaws of life” are important tools and every firefighter must understand the basics of their operation. Spreaders and cutters are so fundamental to us, their operation must be instinctive when called upon. Comfortability only comes from frequent use. While cutting cars up in training never gets old, we do not always have the resources to do so. And, at least up in the north east, we can only run so many drills per month outdoors (looking at you February!). Finally, we need to keep things interesting and diverse to keep our people coming back down for drills.


Drill: Stack Cups with Jaws of Life

Alternate between using the spreaders and cutters to stack Styrofoam (or plastic) cups into a triangular pyramid. The cups should laid in a straight row off to the side. The firefighter picks up each cup with the selected tool, without breaking or piercing the cup, and stacks them one-by-one. First, they should line up the base, usually five cups. Then add the next layer, 4 cups. Then 3 cups and so on until they finally place the single top cup, forming the point of the pyramid.

If you have a proficient team or find competition healthy for your group, consider timing the stack. This adds pressure to the trainee, but forces them to remain calm by not breaking the cup or knocking over the stack. It can be surprisingly challenging.


This drill is fun and practices core competencies critical to use of these tools. The tools are in the firefighter’s hands, turned on and being utilized. They must exercise control over the tool and experience both the power of the tool and how the tip will respond to throttle use. They can better understand how the tool will react to their commands. And if timed, they must remain calm and professional while working under pressure.

As an alternative, if you do not have cups to stack or want to change this idea, you can use plastic Easter eggs. The firefighter must pick up the eggs from one area and walk them over to another area and place them in a basket. The concept can be translated into a variety of formats, including a relay race, in which firefighters pass the tool off to next person in line to finish filling the basket.

Take the concept above, and get creative!



*Always consider your own personal safety and department policies and procedures.